Where does the ideal come from?

Abstract: Is the ideal an engine of social change or only a symptom? The double look shows that it is both, in a metastable cycle, allowing for example to understand that the abolition of slavery or the death penalty can be imposed on a population that appears to be unfavorable but which implicitly accepts the need for the ideal.

Self-organization is peppered with metastable ideals

As the core of human identity, the ideal is the basis of the downward look. It is the origin of our intentions, which are idealized representations of the world associated with bodily needs sublimated into complex desires. Physical necessities confront a world reluctant to submit to them, especially as it is now transformed by a sophisticated society.

Self-organization does not weaken the ideal on principle. It weakens those who are outdated, unsuited to contemporary society. It makes the ideal metastable, that is to say maintained by the reduction of conflicts, lost when they wake up, always susceptible to later resuscitation. This dynamics resembles thermodynamics, with its principle of reduction of free energy, which is very popular with certain sociologists. But this is leaving too much influence to the pure ontological look. The idealist would refuse to see her ideal reduced to a purely passive construction, entirely dependent on the context. The only force of this opinion imposes to see the ideal differently, because it effectively maintains itself in circumstances which are no longer favorable to it, and tries to bring the world back to itself.

An ontology retro-controlled by the ideal

The spontaneous course of social micromechanisms is not enough to explain this persistence of ideals, while they become unsuitable solutions. Self-organization is not reduced to moving from one stable policy to another, as soon as the first is no longer suitable. Stabilities would be fleeting. The ideal, as an independent level of reality, seeks to maintain itself and prolongs the stability it represents. It is its remoteness from the underlying reality that allows its maintenance. It is an approximation of this underlying realism, insensitive to its variations within certain limits. Its presence in turn influences practical reality to conform to these limits. Only a frankly unfavorable context brings it out. We leave the ideal only when it becomes unbearable.

Self-organization, under the double look, is indeed an ontology of mechanisms retro-controlled by a teleological ideal. An important place is given to our intentions. Without bringing them down from a mystical universe. Without sanctifying them in a space where they could not be questioned. The ideal has a life of its own, as an independent level of reality, but can only impose itself on the underlying reality if there is an acceptable solution to it.

The idealistic starters of change

How in this case does one manage to impose an ideal on a population that does not want it? How did our great idealists succeed in abolishing slavery or the death penalty? Certainly they would have failed in a truly anti-abolitionist era. They only aroused feelings that were eager to do so in their contemporaries. The power of mimicry exceeds that of conservatism. Solidarity feeds on the ability to identify with the other. It is not the condition of slave in itself, or condemned to death, that repels us, but the idea that it affects a being that we can no longer catalog as a subspecies, as a kind of insignificant ant. Their crush makes sense.

The ideal apparently imposed by a few precursors is in fact a solution which imposes itself in a favorable context, which is then the object of a symbolization in the precursor idealists, and this symbol has in return a real action, in particular in the education of the following generations. The idealist is first a symptom and not a cause of social change, then she becomes the cause of the maintenance of the change, until after her death. We have to get used to it: our greatest ideas do not transform the world in our lifetime… No need to thank the author, dear reader. Leave it to your descendants 😉


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